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If the Red Wings do waive Ty Conklin, he’ll be headed to a Griffins team that needs goaltending help

I’ve spent quite a bit of my health and legal-issue-related absence refining my skills as a professional worry-wart, but as the Detroit Red Wings’ management begins to hedge toward a decision which MLive’s Ansar Khan and Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji hinted at, and the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff stated explicitly as a rumor bouncing around the press box like mad on Sunday afternoon…

Unconfirmed speculation is that #redwings will waive Conklin Monday in order to send him down. Could be reason why Howard not in today.

I have faith that the Wings will make the best of a difficult situation, both on the ice and in the locker room.

I don’t know the exact CBA specifics thereof, but while the Wings don’t have to waive Joey MacDonald every 10 games/30 days because he’s on a two-way contract, waiving Conklin—who’s been a very quiet but superbly good soldier during MacDonald’s dominant run—would likely mean that, should the Wings choose to go with Jimmy Howard and Joey MacDonald as their goaltenders of note for the balance of the season, the Wings would actually have to bring up Jordan Pearce or Thomas McCollum should either netminder suffer a ding or scrape as recalling Conklin necessitates the re-entry waiver scenario that nobody wants to mess with (even given Conklin’s somewhat negligible value as someone who might be picked up for free as early as tomorrow morning, and given the Wings’ ability to absorb half of whatever remains of Conkin’s $750,000 salary should the need to recall him arise).

Once the playoffs begin, re-entry waivers disappear and you can bring up anybody and everybody, but for the better part of two months, the Wings would be committing to a Howard-MacDonald scenario, and given MacDonald’s play over the past two seasons in injury-replacement capacities, highly hedging their bets toward giving MacDonald an opportunity to prove that his one-way contract for the 2012-2013 season should be played out in Detroit.

For MacDonald, being told to “get a place” would go a long way toward giving the 32-year-old the ability to truly find permanent NHL employment with the team which signed him as a free agent back in 2001, and given both his 11-6-and-5 record, 2.12 goals-against average .925 save percentage over this past two seasons with Detroit, never mind his very affordable $550,000 salary cap hit, MacDonald might end up “getting a place” where he can bring the family he left behind in Nova Scotia because he found last year’s season as something of a yo-yo between Grand Rapids and Detroit a little too much to bear on the familial front.

I’m not Ken Holland and I might be one of the few Wings fans who would never wish that job upon himself (I’m glad that he loves it because it’s a hard one), but at this point, it certainly seems that MacDonald’s earned the right to back up Howard as everybody hopes that the Wings’ starter won’t be hampered by his still-healing right index finger, because if Howard does need some assistance and/or a little breather here or there as his pain tolerance requires over the next four or so weeks, the Wings simply cannot afford to surrender points in the incredibly tightly-packed Western Conference and Central Division standings for the sake of getting Conklin back on track. It seems kind of mean to suggest as much, but as a partisan Wings fan, I would rather have MacDonald sitting his dominant butt on the bench, ready to go as needed, than I would knowing that Conklin might offer a shaky alternative if somebody goes after Howard in a scrum to try and bait him into swinging that sore finger around (and we know that will happen at some point, and as a goalie, trust me, if guys know you’re hurting somewhere, they hack the hell out of your sore spots at every opportunity, so every time Howard stops a puck with his blocker, he’ll get whacked) or if Howard simply finds that the thuds of pucks hitting his stick and trying to steer his paddle without the finger which is supposed to guide it. Conklin’s been a wonderful “good soldier” and I think that the Wings have let him out to dry and then some on more than one occasion, but you want to have the best goalie possible ready to go if Howard needs an extra game off here or there, and that player is Joey MacDonald.

For Conklin, obviously, the situation’s discouraging to say the least as he might very well have flamed out of two organizations, and may need to either play for a while in the AHL or Europe to regain his status as an NHL-caliber back-up (despite truly having played fairly well in 9 appearances) for the Wings.

That being said, especially given that the Grand Rapids Griffins are absolutely desperate to close the 7-point gap between themselves and the Lake Erie Monsters in the North Division standings, and given that the team’s lost 5 of their 7 February games and find themselves, as the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner notes, both 8 points out of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot and in rather desperate straits in the goaltending department, as Wallner noted on Thursday, it’s not as if the Griffins wouldn’t give Conklin every possible opportunity to reclaim his form:

Without MacDonald, the Griffins have struggled. Jordan Pearce was pulled Wednesday after the second period at Chicago in favor of Tom McCollum, who will start Saturday’s home game against Peoria. McCollum, who was strong in relief against the Wolves in a 4-3 overtime loss, has a save percentage of .882 (3.63 gaa). Pearce is at .874 (3.53).

“Bottom line, it needs to be better,” said coach Curt Fraser. “Joey was such a stabilizing force on this team. I mean, the team just played with more confidence with him around. With these kids, while they have been good at times, they need to not let the pressure get to them.”

McCollum is aware of the expectations.

“First off, we get along well,” he said of teammate Pearce. “But you have to push yourself to get better because you know that if you play well, you’ll get another chance and then you have to try and build from there.”

In six games without MacDonald, the Griffins (20-20-5-4) have allowed five goals three times and four goals twice. So what’s next? Fraser will wait along with everyone else.

“If it’s Ty, that would be terrific for us,” he said. “If he comes to us you know he would have the mindset to prove something.”

On Saturday, the Griffins dropped a 3-1 decision to the Peoria Rivermen, with McCollum giving up 3 goals on 29 shots, and Wallner spoke to Griffins captain Garnet Exelby about the immense importance the Griffins are placing upon turning things around almost immediately:

The Griffins play two of their next three at home. They currently are 13th in the Western Conference (20-21-5-4) and eight points out of a playoff spot. In March, they face road trips of five and four games.

The goalie situation also may be resolved soon. The Detroit Red Wings are expected to decide by Monday whether to send back down Joey MacDonald or waive Ty Conklin, who could then join Grand Rapids mid-week if he clears waivers.

On Saturday, Tom McCollum stopped all 11 shots in the first, was hung out to dry on Peoria’s first goal, by Brett Sterling, in the second. Later in the second, a shot by Anthony Peluso squirted through his arm, and then he was victimized by a backhand shot point blank by Phil McRae in the third, moments after the Griffins had cut the margin to 2-1.

“I think we’ve given up too many goals, so one step where I think we’ve been doing a better job is with our penalty killing and not taking as many penalties,” said Exelby. “We just need to be solid defensively in our own end and talk to each other.”

Put simply: the Red Wings don’t necessarily bear any responsibility to send Ty Conklin down and place themselves in a situation in which they find themselves needing to recall Conklin via re-entry waivers over the next two months, but at this point, the Grand Rapids Griffins rather desperately need more stable goaltending if they are to make the playoffs, and if Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Ryan Martin, Mike Babcock, Jeff Blashill and Bill Peters have decided that they’d prefer to stick with MacDonald as Jimmy Howard’s back-up for the balance of the regular season, they would be doing Conklin no disservice by sending him to a team which would give him every opportunity to shine and lead them back into playoff contention—just as MacDonald would if the Wings choose to send him down in the hopes of sustaining his dominant play while giving his previous employer an incredibly necessary boost…

And we all know that the Red Wings’ players understand that hockey is a cutthroat business, where jobs are won, lost and “stolen” all the time, but we’re far, far removed from the days when Manny Legace served as the Berlin Wall between Dominik Hasek and Curtis Joseph’s respective egos. The Wings want each other to do well, but the team’s success always comes first and foremost, and if Conklin has any complaints if he is in fact on his way toward I-96’s western terminus for the balance of the season…Any negative comments would be a radical departure from the “Red Wings way” norm.

The Wings’ coaches and brass will sort things out so that their netminding is the best that it possibly can be and so that the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate receives the goaltending reinforcements it desperately needs, and at this point, both “hot” and substantiated rumors suggest that Conklin’s about to embark on a journey to reclaim his status as an NHL-capable back-up while playing for a team a few hours west of the one he began the 2011-2012 season with, but neither Conklin nor Joey MacDonald’s respective personal goals will be harmed in the process.

More importantly, the Wings and Griffins’ collective goaltending situations ensure that both teams’ best interests will be served regardless of whether Conklin is waived or MacDonald is sent down to Grand Rapids until Jimmy Howard needs a breather.

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great write up George

Posted by MTURedwings from Houghton / The Great White North on 02/20/12 at 03:30 AM ET

DocF's avatar

Agreed, you wrote the situation clearly and concisely, George.

Assuming Conklin can clear waivers, he might be able to get his game together and help Grand Rapids at the same time.  I believe his career is finished if he stays glued to the bench behind Howard.


Posted by DocF from Now: Lynn Haven, FL; was Reidsville, NC on 02/20/12 at 03:44 AM ET


Good luck, Grand Rapids.

Posted by Garth on 02/20/12 at 03:53 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

I know that there are Wings fans that want to send Conklin to Siberia (it’s too late in the KHL season for, say, Amur Khabarovsk, which is so far in the “Far East” that it’s northeast of North Korea and east of Mongolia, to add a goalie), but right now the Grand Rapids Griffins need a goalie to step up and help McCollum and Pearce…

And I don’t hold any ill will toward Conklin, so to me, sending him down to Grand Rapids would mean regular playing time and having three available goalies ready to go come playoff time and a Conklin with actual confidence in himself and his ability to help Howard and MacDonald come playoff time.

Hopefully it would also mean a Conklin who can continue his NHL career somewhere next season, regardless of whether that’s in Detroit or elsewhere, as well as a MacDonald who can find a long-term NHL home for himself and his family.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/20/12 at 03:55 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Garth, the Griffins need all the luck they can get. Curt Fraser’s nothing less than an amazing coach and mentor for the Griffins’ players, but his job might be in jeopardy if he can’t make the playoffs this year, and the Griffins feel that they owe their fans more than just the privilege of being the Wings’ AHL affiliate.

They want to win, too, and it’s pretty damn important for the Wings that McCollum and Pearce’s respective confidences aren’t completely shot now and forever going forward, too.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/20/12 at 03:57 AM ET

George Malik's avatar

Also: I’m sorry about my absence. Between the sinus infection and having to deal with a legal matter which will determine some financial and insurance security for myself—and I will probably lose, but I had to go through it and be reminded of all the things which my illness prevents me from doing that I was once able to do with ease—I was way too sick and way too emotionally messed up to do my job with any proficiency whatsoever.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 02/20/12 at 04:10 AM ET

BrendonTO's avatar

Fantastic summary of the situation George

Posted by BrendonTO on 02/20/12 at 04:42 AM ET

DrewBehr's avatar

Excellent piece, George and no need to apologize for your absence at all. We’re all grateful for the amount of work you do.

I truly hope that Joey Mac stays with the big club, given his tremendous play and especially considering the fact that he’s on a 1-way deal next year. I can’t see another team trying to claim Conks, so I feel it would be a safe move.

Being in Grand Rapids, I can’t express enough how much we need this team to make the playoffs. It’s definitely great to watch the future Wings come through the ranks, but it baffles me that we fail to make the post-season year after year with as much talent as we apparently have. Even when Howard was the Griffins netminder, we couldn’t put strong seasons together.

On a side note, I’m really hoping that Mrazek pans out, because if we’re looking to keep our future goaltending “in house,” neither McCollum or Pierce are the answer. Pierce has completely fallen off after a sensational year last year, and McCollum has constantly failed to live up to expectations.

Posted by DrewBehr from The Mitten on 02/20/12 at 05:28 AM ET

Rdwings28's avatar

George, you’re absence is always notable, but please don’t apologize. you owe us nothing, whatever you are able to do is great and satisfactory. It must be difficult for you as I believe you find joy and satisfaction writing about the Wings and hockey. keep up the good work, we all have your back, and hope the legal business comes out alright.

Posted by Rdwings28 on 02/20/12 at 10:24 AM ET

MsRedWinger's avatar

Posted by Rdwings28 on 02/20/12 at 07:24 AM ET

What he said.

Bottom line is that the team comes first.  Sounds like a win (for the Wings) - win (for the Griffins) if Conklin is sent down to GR.  And if Conklin is the great guy he seems to be, I think he probably agrees. 

Carrying three goalies on the Wings doesn’t make much sense if GR needs help that badly. 

As for DrewBehr’s comments about Pearce and McCollum, I remember lots and lots of concern about Howard and whether he was ever going to “live up to expectations.”  And we see how that worked out, right?

cool smile

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 02/20/12 at 11:44 AM ET

Jeff  OKWingnut's avatar

JMac has more than paid his dues, and his hard work has paid off brilliantly.

It is pretty simple actually, as Babcock has said, the Wings are in the business of winning.  JMac’s record vs. Conklin’s speaks for itself.

I have no ill will towards Conk either, JMac is the obvious choice for backup.

Posted by Jeff OKWingnut from Quest for 12 on 02/20/12 at 01:27 PM ET


I don’t hold any ill will towards Conklin, but I also don’t trust him this year (and I think the team is the same way).

The fact that MacDonald started yesterday when, at least theoretically, Jimmy Howard was ready to start shows how much they like Joey and how much confidence they have in him.

I would love it if Conklin could regain his form in GR and both help himself and the team, but as far as having more capable goaltenders come playoff time if Howard should go down, I don’t think it will matter much if Conklin played well in the AHL.  If the Red Wings are going to win in the playoffs it will be with Jimmy Howard.  Conklin and MacDonald are both career journeymen backups and while they are capable goalies in the back up role, between then they have two playoff experiences totalling 26 minutes.  If Jimmy Howard goes down in the playoffs then the Wings could be in a world of trouble.

Posted by Garth on 02/20/12 at 01:53 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

...despite truly having played fairly well in 9 appearances) for the Wings.

Fairly well? Geez, George, the guy has a .878 SV% and a 3.40 GAA in 11 total appearances. Yes, he had a shut out in his first game plus two pretty good games in January. But overall, he’s stunk the place up. And it was pretty obvious his teammates had no confidence in his ability to stop the puck.

A week or so ago, I was absolutely adamant that Conklin should be the one sent down when Howard was ready to return. But I’m questioning that after reading these comments from Fraser: “Joey was such a stabilizing force on this team. I mean, the team just played with more confidence with him around. With these kids, while they have been good at times, they need to not let the pressure get to them.” The Griffins need JMac more than the Wings do right now.

If Conklin stays and backs up Jimmy, he won’t play more than three or four of the remaining 22 games. And maybe he’s gotten some “motivation” lately to play a stronger game. Two wins out of the three or four starts would be all he’d have to contribute.

On the other hand, if JMac stays, I could see Babcock starting him in five or six games. That extra rest for Jimmy could pay dividends in the playoffs.

Whatever happens, it’s been great seeing Joey step up his game at exactly the right time. The fact that he’ll always be a part of the home-win record is pretty special for someone who’s had a rather up and down career.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/20/12 at 03:13 PM ET


The Griffins need JMac more than the Wings do right now.

You can’t think that is what the Red Wings should be worrying about, can you?

If Conklin stays and backs up Jimmy, he won’t play.

There.  Fixed that for you.

Posted by Garth on 02/20/12 at 03:20 PM ET

WestWing's avatar

But who will plunge the toilets???

Posted by WestWing from Portland, Oregon on 02/20/12 at 04:08 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

If Conklin stays and backs up Jimmy, he won’t play.

There.  Fixed that for you.

Now, Garth, you know that’s not true. Babcock would never let Howard play all 22 of the remaining games. If he stays, he’ll play. How well he would play is the only question.

The Griffins need JMac more than the Wings do right now.

You can’t think that is what the Red Wings should be worrying about, can you?

The Griffins belong to the Wings now so they have to wory about the success of the franchise more than they used to. They can’t keep missing the playoffs and hope that the fans will continue to support them at the same level.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/20/12 at 05:09 PM ET


Babcock would never let Howard play all 22 of the remaining games.

I don’t know that at all.  In the 8 games that Howard missed. Conklin played one period.

I guess you’re right though.  The most games Jimmy’s played back to back is 17, so I guess Conklin would’ve started one game.

Unless the home streak continued and there were important points on the line.

The Griffins belong to the Wings now so they have to wory about the success of the franchise more than they used to.

I’m not saying they don’t have to worry about the Griffins, I’m just saying that you’re nuts if you think they’re going to put the concerns of the Griffins ahead of the concerns of the Red Wings.

Posted by Garth on 02/20/12 at 10:38 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.